Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two days around Quy Nhon (The tale of the Tin Canoe and other stuff)

Written from Quy Nhon (Central Viet Nam) 14 November 2013
We've spent two full days in the field here and there's a bit to tell.  Yesterday was fabulous and today was well, not quite fabulous, but what the heck.  Yesterday's weather was hot and fine until an evening thunderstorm dampened (and cooled) things down.  Today was threatening all day but only got us wet a few times, and never anything that wouldn't dry pretty quickly.  We (and for now that means my resident archaeologist, her bike, the Little Horse, and me) we, as I was saying, have several different missions here and we've been working away at them to the tune of ten hours or so both days out on the road.  The archaeologist wants to see archaic boat construction (that's an overlap, so do i) and to actually look at the see the sea marks, rocks, islands and bays that she's been studying in old archived sailing directions from the 16th and 17th century.  To the extent such places are gorgeous or fascinating I'm happy to go along with that too.  I'm trying to locate at least one traditional building site with a mid-sized traditional double ended boat of the local style under construction. . .well, really, I'd like three or four of them a week or two apart and all of them being actively worked on. . .might as well wish big.  So, the archaeologist's been doing pretty well with her sea marks and bays and I've found. . .well. . .tin canoes?

Yesterday was definitely the day of the tin canoe.  Everywhere in Viet Nam has a standard tin canoe these days, a boat that would have had timber topsides and a woven basket bottom a few years ago. . .now has the same wooden topsides and a tin (or sometimes plastic barrel) bottom.  We stumbled across one lying in the weeds next to a coffee shop tent beside a storm sewer outfall at the head of a fishing boat moorage.  Fortunately, the coffee is very strong here.  Anyway, we rolled it over to get a better look, photographed it from all angles and drank more coffee.  Then all day long variations on the tin canoe theme kept leaping up at us.   In the course of looking for outlooks overlooking sea marks we saw them in their abundance.There were tin canoes for paddling, for sculling, for rowing facing forward with your hands (standing up) and rowing facing forward with your feet (sitting down).  There were tin canoes fishing with nets and setting crab pots and just going somewhere.  We talked to rowers and fishermen and grand daughters of woven canoe builders.  We saw them singly at a distance and in flocks of a dozen (or more) up close (canoes, not grand daughters).   There were all the other local boats too, but at the end of the day, it was tin canoes we'd seen.

Some of the sea marks and bays were truly gorgeous.  Others were just blue lumps of islands on the horizon, but you could readily imagine they might have really mattered to some 16th century European (or Arab or Chinese or Japanese. . .) sailorman wishing he knew where he was.  It was really good exploring all along the coast north of the city.  I found an ancient carcass of a small fishing boat at the right degree of ripeness to allow examination of all its structure, and there were some delightful surprises there, secrets revealed and so forth.  And there was more, I just can't think of it all right now.

And what of today you ask. . .well.  We DID finally get to the Cham towers out on the Highway after we got un-lost.  I took the wrong road out of town and then thought I'd made a mistake so turned around but I was wrong, it wasn't a mistake and we should have kept going, so we went back.  Very impressive.  We went wandering down a narrow lane looking for the bay and found a river and no more road to follow it downstream.  We DID have a great lunch of two sorts of meat wrapped in rice paper with a salad and some crispy things I don't know what were.  We did think to buy gas (barely) in time (her bike has a very small tank), we did find some old beached boats, one with what I think is an anomalous rudder, and we did, no kidding, ride down a mile of very very narrow one lane road with really skinny high bridges and houses and/or water up tight on both sides and a grade and middle school just letting out at the end of the road, where we were squeezed in between the school yard fence and the house on the left (did I mention, with water all around) and besieged by a good hundred kids who thought we were absolutely hilarious.  Then a few mom's came to sort out their kids and after that a drunk dad turned up to sort out his wife and. . .sometimes it goes like that. . .but the kids were fantastic.  Or rather, they thought we were. Did I mention tin canoes? Besides the hundreds of them everywhere clamoring for attention, we saw one being built  (can you believe they're making still MORE of the things?? is there anybody who doesn't already have one??) and I got a few photos of that while the archaeologist kept 20 kids in line (and in stitches) out on the (very very narrow) one way road (with water on both sides).  And we did get home to the city before dark.  Not much before dark, but it worked.  Here's some of what we saw. . .
Your basic tin canoe set up for rowing with your feet (bicycle style),  Lean into the back rest, set your feet in the old sandals and off you go.  Part your hair down the middle for balance.

An interesting basket boat in need of a new tarp. . .rowing a tin canoe standing up.  Forget about parting the hair.

Really big new fishing vessel getting her engine (just disappeared down through where the engine room roof will go someday soon).

The elusive local small to mid sized fishing and utility vessel. . .I need to come up with a better name for them. . .in the fishing harbor in Quy Nhon

Quy Nhon water taxi
The Quy Nhon version of "water taxi",  with quite a load on.  Actually, these peapod-like rowing boats are quite nicely shaped, just a little old and tired in places.

Nearing completion, her engine, transmission, shaft and prop all installed, still needs a rudder and a good bit of work upstairs.  These are fastened about 80% with wooden "tree nails" and 20% with galvanized bolts. Really stout boats, wood from Laos in long clear lengths.  

Quy Nhon dock.

A fine little double ender, the old traditional sailing hull, built though as a motor boat, with a motor boat's rudder and no center board or sailing rig at all.  

By golly, harvesting water spinach (morning glory family actually).  it's a very nice cooked green, with tender stems as well as nice leaves. . .I've eaten a lot of it but never saw it being cut before. . .from a round basket boat!!

A sweet old lady about at the end of her days, but willing to tell us the secrets of her building and a bit of her history.  At least at the end she was a motor boat, though she had a wooden sailboat's rudder.  There's no visible sign of a deck or a cabin, I think she was just a sturdy open work boat, though there's a lot of her missing.  

A square Cham Tower. . .from the corner.  Never thought to take that angle before!  These are about 800 years old I believe, but have been extensively restored/repaired in a series of efforts.  All the statuary has been chiseled off the sides and presumably sold.  Sigh.  There should be Shivas and Ganeshes and that sort of personage, but they're all gone.

A narrow and somewhat rickety bridge, though it was placarded for 500 kg loads, way more than a man and a motorbike.

The archaeologist ready to ride.  

The most incredible gold (pink?) fish I've ever seen. . .in a coffee shop a kilometer from the Cham towers.  After my masterful wander we felt entitled to a coffee.

A sea mark. . .what the archaeologist wanted. A really tiny little harbor and a village nearby.
Fishing at sunset--Quy Nhon.  He's just checking the net. . .nobody was caught, so he'll lower it back to the bottom in a moment and wait for someone to swim by. . .


  1. Really, this is a gas to read. I am grateful you are experiencing it and writing it. Thanks.

    1. Glad you like it sir, I enjoy writing it, will do another post this evening. See You!

  2. Hey Ken, thanks for maintaining this blog...its a nice read and keeps us up to date with your adventures with the little archeologist. We count on you to make sure she drinks enough water and is well fed! Chris (the brother)

    1. Hello Chris, she's a good traveler and a fabulous traveling companion. If I could pick another daughter she would be my choice. Thanks for writing, Ken